Canton Schools Consider Policy Prohibiting Harassment Of Transgender Students

The board of education might soon adopt a policy specifically prohibiting harassment of transgender students and requiring that school staff be sensitive and supportive of those students.

School Superintendent Kevin Case outlined that policy to a board subcommittee on Tuesday. No action was taken on Tuesday but committee members said they want to present the proposal to the full board in December.

Case said on Tuesday that no one incident prompted the district to consider adding this policy. He said the district has no rules now to guide staff on working with transgender students.

“We review our policies every year and one of the policies we realized we don’t have is one on transgender students,” Case said on Tuesday. “We wanted to be proactive and have something before any concerns arise and to protect the rights of those students.”

Information on how many districts in Connecticut have adopted policies on transgender students was not available Tuesday. But people involved in helping local schools implement such policies said they have seen greater interest in them in the past year.

Robin McHaelen, executive director of True Colors, said after federal guidelines protecting transgender students were rescinded earlier this year, the state implemented its own requiring that students be allowed to participate in school using the gender identity of their own choice. True Colors is an advocacy group that works on behalf of sexual and gender minority youth.

“Gender is an ongoing issue in districts across the state,” McHaelen said. In addition to helping districts write policies, True Colors offers training for school staff and McHaelen said she has done 20 of those sessions for elementary schools in the past couple of years.

Vincent Mustaro, senior staff associate for school policies for the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said CABE has had a draft policy available to districts since 2013.

“Initially there were not a lot of requests for the policy. There has been an increase in the past year to 18 months,” Mustaro said. “It’s not a question of if but when, and it’s better to have direction in place in the form of a policy rather than not have any guidance to go by.”

Robert Rader, CABE’s executive director, said adopting policies on transgender students is a step in the right direction.

“These students need support and the process is difficult for their parents,” Rader said. “But with good education and rules in place, these students can flourish.”

The policy Canton is considering would prohibit harassment of transgender students and require that it be investigated promptly should it happen.

A draft of the Canton policy includes language requiring that school administrators meet with transgender students and their families to discuss concerns and work out plans to address any issues in school. Among the specifics in the policy is direction on how teachers and other staff speak to transgender students.

“School staff shall be directed to address the student by the name and pronoun corresponding to their gender identity that is consistently asserted at school,” the draft policy states.

The policy also addresses the use of bathrooms and locker rooms. Language in the draft states, “A transgender student should not be required to use a locker room or restroom that conflicts with the student’s gender identity.”

But the policy would also require school staff to work out an alternative arrangement for bathrooms and locker rooms to protect a transgender student’s privacy if that student wants one.

Board members who reviewed the proposed policy on Tuesday raised no objections to it and much of the discussion revolved around technical issues. One issue the committee may revisit before presenting the policy to the board is whether to clearly define the phrase “consistently asserted” that is used several times in the draft in reference to when students state to staff and their peers their gender identity. Some on the committee said stronger language might avoid misunderstandings once the policy is adopted.

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